Belegarth Medieval fighting: One sport to rule them all

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Hellsing, gripping his sword and shield close, slowly circles his opponent, Elwrath. Curious motorists slow to watch this odd spectacle of fighters dressed in colorful medieval garb, as battles occur every Thursday evening at Provo’s North Park.

The fighters inch closer as muscles tense, both are completely focused on each other. Nearly too fast to see, Elwrath swings his sword. Hellsing tries to parry, but Elwrath is too quick. A solid jab, and the fight is over — one fighter victorious, one defeated.

Members in the Watchmen of Ered Duath fight with their own homemade gear, including weapons, shields and clothes at North Park in Provo.
Members in the Watchmen of Ered Duath fight with their own homemade gear, including weapons, shields and clothes at North Park in Provo.

“If you like real medieval combat, you’ll love Belegarth,” said Thomas Hegstrom-Oakey, who goes by the name “Elwrath.”

The Watchmen of Ered Duath take up arms every Thursday evening at North Park in Provo, at 500 N. 500 West. Practicing their medieval fighting skills, this group of nearly 30 members prepares weekly for intense battles held around the country.

The group, established in 1991, is part of a medieval combat sport called Belegarth. People across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico take part in the sport. Participants draw inspiration from the world of J.R.R. Tolkein and relive the greatest battles from “Lord of the Rings” and other events.

Members form groups, also called realms, to distinguish themselves from others. Individual members make up their own stage names, but realm names are taken from “Lord of the Rings” locations. Provo’s realm is called The Watchmen of Ered Duath.

The Watchmen of Ered Duath are sponsored members of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society.  Belegarth uses full-contact fighting, differentiating it from many medieval clubs. Hegstrom-Oakey, one of Ered Duath’s council members, said this is a common misconception.

“We’re not LARPers (live action role playing) or a historical reenactment club,” Hegstrom-Oakey said. “People driving by assume that we are, but we’re really fighting. Our members have a high caliber of fighting ability.”

The Watchmen of Ered Duath don’t just meet on Thursdays to practice. Many members also attend self-defense, hand-to-hand and other combat classes. One of the newest members, who chose to go by his player name “Hellsing,” said the practice never stops.

“I’m not nearly as good as some of these other guys,” Hellsing said. “I’m always practicing. I’ve got a punching bag at home that I’m always sparring with.”

The fights consist of melee weapons created to resemble weapons used in medieval times. Maces, swords, pole-arms, even bows and arrows are made with plastic and hard foam. Safety standards are set to prevent serious injury, but combatants still leave fights battered and bruised.

“We’re not just swinging swords,” Hegstrom-Oakey said. “There’s almost a science to it. People put a lot of time into learning how to fight.”

The fights themselves are fast and intense, and the rules are simple. Any hit that connects where a woman’s one-piece swimsuit would cover is a death. Losing two limbs is also a death. The rules try to be comparable to real battle, said Chris Halloway, another council member for the group.

“You can still fight if you lose an arm or a leg,” Halloway said. “But if you lose two arms you can’t fight or defend yourself. Lose two legs, and you can’t move.”

Players practice to compete in city and nationwide events. In these events, members represent themselves, as well as their group, as they fight battles against many of the other realms.

These events host one-on-one battles, realm-against-realm battles and other types of fights. Hegstrom-Oakey said some battles involve as many as 500 people, split into two teams.

“Those ones can get pretty intense,” Hegstrom-Oakey said.

Members are encouraged to attend multiple events, and with more than 100 each year, it’s easy to find one to go to. Many events are local, but more are set at regional and even national levels.

“The only event I went to was Chaos Wars last July,” said Nick Memmott, who has been a member for more than a year. “I’ve kind of held off on events because I got injured pretty bad.”

Regardless of whether or not someone goes to events or just comes on Thursdays, new members are always welcome.

“There’s no charge to become part of our realm,” Halloway said. “Events cost money, but if you want to just come on Thursdays to fight, that’s fine.”

New members can use other fighters’ weapons and gear, but after a month it’s recommended that they make their own. The Watchmen of Ered Duath accommodate anyone who is interested in joining.

For more information, visit their Wiki or their Web page:

http://geddon.org/Ered_Duath

http://provobelegarth.wordpress.com/.

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